Let’s give this another try! A year ago, my attempt to plow through the remaining Best Director nominees sputtered to a halt for a number of reasons. I’ll be resuming this undertaking presently, but I’d like to take a moment, first to take stock of the reasons for the abrupt cutoff last summer, and then to resolve to finish the job this time. This blog, essentially, is a private journal that I happen to open up to the internet, but occasionally the public aspect to my writing has its advantages. Even if I know only three or four of you out there will read this, saying these things to the world makes them concrete in a certain way. By enumerating the reasons I fell short before—and why this time will be different—this post may assume the role of a contract, and I hope the memory of writing this will motivate me on the long road ahead!
For starters, I simply got overwhelmed last summer, burdened at first with a surgery, then with work, then with school, until I’d simply lost the momentum and couldn’t pick it up again. While this has been a busy end of the semester (and I’ve gotten off to a later start than I’d planned!) I think I’ll have the time to commit to it. I’ve also learned that polishing off one category a year is, for now, plenty of work given my typical schedule. Second, looking back on my final Best Actress posts, I was surprised to see just how much longer and more intensive each Best Director post was becoming, to the point where the mental weight of writing each post contributed mightily to my inability to keep it up. While I still want them to be robust discussions of the film, I’m going to try to impose a practical length on each post and stick to it.
Finally, though, I think what really doomed me was the lack of a hard external deadline. The reason I resolved to wrap up my years-long Best Actress campaign was the chance to see the TCM festival screening of the The African Queen on the big screen! Having that last great Katharine Hepburn performance looming on the calendar kept me from procrastinating too long between posts. Last summer, already exhausted from Best Actress, I didn’t have a similarly strong motive to keep going. This time, though, a suitable motivation has appeared on the calendar, in the form of the UCLA Film & Television Archive’s showing of Short Cuts at the Billy Wilder Theater on June 7th. While the film may not be as universally iconic as my previous capper, it does hold a particular significance to me.
Back when I was getting into cinema in high school, mainlining the film canon and believing the supply of great movies to be much smaller than it turned out to be, I had an irrational fear of running out of new classics to discover. By that point, Robert Altman had been firmly established as my favorite live action director (and second overall only to Hayao Miyazaki). Inspired, I think, by a poem I once read about an Agatha Christie fan treasuring her last unread Poirot novel, I resolved to set aside a certain number of purported gems to parcel out over the rest of my life. Both Bonnie and Clyde and The African Queen were among this exclusive cache. Short Cuts, by then the only major Altman film left on my checklist, joined as well, along with others that I now plan to finish out future categories—Trainspotting (Adapted Screenplay) and The Magnificent Ambersons, to name two.
Seasoned now by years of moviegoing, I find that my fear of running out of films has been supplanted by a healthy fear of never catching up, and that nebulous future time has become, if not more definite, then certainly more imminent. In the meantime, each title in this small cache has come to occupy an increasingly mythical place in my imagination. As I’ve encountered more of the works that surrounding them—other entries in the creators’ filmographies, influences, homages, each one has taken on the qualities of a legend. Together, they have, after a fashion, become my own personal list of lost masterpieces. Needless to say, though, I may have been misinformed about any one them. Just as with any time capsule, you never know what your choices will say to the future world when the seal is finally broken.
But I seem to recall promising to keep these new posts down to a reasonable length! If I’m doing my math right, I have 41 more films on my checklist, of which I know 40 to exist in accessible, viewable form. That puts me on a pace of just about 4 films every three days for the next month! Heaven knows if I’ll be able to sustain such a pace, but I do promise to watch all of the movies in time for the grand encounter with the last great Altman, and get those posts out as soon as I can. Without further ado, let’s get back to business!